By Kenny Peavy
When we were kids we weren’t allowed in the house. We were told that kids didn’t belong inside. The philosophy back then was that kids were meant to be outdoors playing. A kids place was outside. No kids inside.
It was a steadfast rule, because if we did manage to sneak into the house for some reason we’d be chased out again by our mamas yelling all sorts of stuff broom in hand.
Looking back, I am incredibly grateful that was the philosophy and the rule. Because it was strictly enforced, me, my sister and all my friends spent endless hours roaming free in the neighborhood in search of adventure, entertainment and distraction.
Boredom was an integral part of being a kid back then. We didn’t have fancy toys or video games. At most we might have a skate board, a bicycle, a football or related outdoor gear like a knife or fishing pole. This led to all sorts of games and time filling activities being invented. Often on the spot.
We’d find some scraps of tape or paper somewhere and roll it up into a ball. A stick became a bat. And a fierce game of stickball might erupt.
We’d yell out rules and make them up as we go.
“Three fouls count as one strike!” yelled just after one kid hit two fouls and we were weary of all the fouls being hit.
“If you hit more than two out of bounds it counts as a strike!” screamed after we got tired of somebody always hitting the ball out of bounds.
“If you can’t tag the person, you can throw the ball at ‘em to get ‘em out!” negotiated when the fastest player screamed around the bases. No one could catch them!
If we couldn’t catch them, maybe we might have a chance to get them out by flinging the ball at them as they scooted by. Or so it was reasoned.
“Wait, it only counts if you hit ‘em below the waistline.” a correction to the previous rule invented after someone got smacked in the skull. We couldn’t deliberately try to knock them out or aim at the head.
And so, it went. No adults in sight. No adults allowed.
All rules invented and implemented on the spot. Everything created on the fly.
We were learning negotiation skills. We were learning how to communicate. We were learning how to argue our case for the new rules we’d invented and wanted to implement. We were learning strategy and empathy (when someone got a bloody lip from being plonked with the paper tape ball!).
Of course, we didn’t call it that. We didn’t even realise it at the time. No one was implicitly teaching us.
We just called it playing outside.
All of it. Every single bit of it was student centered, student driven, discovery and peer teaching at its best. (To use modern educational jargon).
So much learning was taking place through play!
The best days would be when we would pretend to be Steve Austin from The Six Million Dollar Man and run through the woods in slow motion pretending to have bionic legs. Or even better, when we imagined we were Evel Knievel and set up ramps across the creek to simulate his jump across the Grand Canyon.
And some of the best times were when we built forts in the woods and pretended to be conquering knights or when we tried to build tree huts and figure out how to engineer slabs of 2” X 4” pieces of wood to stay in place and then figure out how to make a ladder using vines without accidentally weaving in poison ivy!
Boredom was the key. It gave time, space and freedom to make up our own games. Time to create. Time to invent.
If boredom is the mother of invention, then the lack of pre-made and readymade resources is the father. Back then we weren’t infected with Affluenza, the disease of affluence and excess, so we had to be inventive and creative with what little we had if we wanted to play and have fun.
I am afraid that is what is lacking today. A lack of lacking. We have too much. Too many things and too many distractions.
As a result, boredom has retreated into the forest waiting for explorers and adventurers to venture into the woods and come to discover their Muses for creativity and invention.
Things have changed since we were kids being chased out of the house.
Adults are always present. Rules are imposed. Games come pre-assembled. There are 1000+ tiny pieces or a screen. Batteries or a charger are always required.
Play dates are made. Play is scheduled and not spontaneous. The places where the play dates happen are sterile and manicured as ‘proper’ playgrounds tend to be these days.
Wildness and spontaneity have been chased out the window by fear, efficiency and convenience.
We even have terms for what we used to simply call playing outside. Now it’s referred to unsupervised, unstructured free time. Research is done on this topic. Papers are written. Data is analysed.
When all we simply need to do is get outside and play in Nature.
Kenny Peavy is an environmentalist who has a memoir called Young Homeless Professional. He has co-authored a pioneering environmental education handbook, As if the Earth Matters, and recently, an illustrated book, The Box People , was re-released digitally to enable children, young people and their parents and educators anywhere in the world to use the book. He also created Waffle House Prophets: Poems Inspired by Sacred People and Places.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL